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Father-Son Bonding, By Bike Across Japan

Matt Villano

Some family vacations are bigger and more adventuresome than others. Case in point: A 2009 adventure for Charles Scott and his 8-year-old son. The duo spent the summer of that year biking 2,500 miles from the northern cap to the southern tip of Japan. Scott wrote about these adventures in forthcoming book, titled, Rising Son: A Father and Son’s Bike Adventure Across Japan. I caught up with him recently to chat about the experience.

Q. Talk a bit about your life before the ride. What prompted you to go out and do this?
A. The main impetus was turning 40. I was feeling frustrated by the typical lifestyle of a corporate executive, the whole notion of being on the road a lot. I made a list of goals of things I wanted to do in the next decade. One of them was to have adventures with my kids. Sho was sitting next to me I made this list. I turned to him and said, ‘Well, we need to come up with an adventure.’ He and I thought up the ride together right there. I took a two-month unpaid leave from work to make it happen.

Q. Why Japan?
A. My wife is Japanese, and still has lots of family there, so we go there pretty much every year, usually for New Year’s. Also, between college and grad school, I lived there for two years. It just seemed like a good place to do this.

Q. To what extent had you taken long bike trips with Sho before this one?
A. We had never done it. I have done a bunch of Ironman triathlons, which include cycling. But I’d never ridden with him. I was so ignorant about the whole thing that I had never heard of the trailer cycle that he ended up riding. Obviously I had to research it and try it out.

Q. How did you “train” your 8-year-old for a 2,500-mile ride?
A. With a trailer cycle, it’s a separate chain, so if Sho wanted to sit there and let me do all the work, he had that choice. I was concerned about trying to push him to train. I wasn’t going to have him train the way I was. We’d go out on fun rides here before we left. We’d ride the circumference of Manhattan and stop and have snacks, just to get used to being out on the road for 2 or 3 hours at a time.

Q. What was strategy on the road?
A. We averaged about 45 or 50 miles per day, stopping almost every hour. Instead of an endurance challenge, this was adventure cycling—creating the possibility to meet people and discover things that we didn’t know. One time we saw a sign for Japan’s oldest apple tree, and we checked it out. I mapped out the entire route in advance, and we stuck to it pretty well. Because we had a tent with us, we didn’t make any reservations. That gave us flexibility to do whatever we wanted to do. I estimated 66 days. In the end, it took us 67.

Q. What were the toughest stretches of the ride for him?
A. Early on he threw three fairly major temper tantrums. They were definitely his way of expressing anxiety about the trip. After the third one, I told him I couldn’t do it without him, and asked him to think of himself as a team member. After that, he was fine. He helped with the tent. He took on responsibility. He adjusted to the routine.

Q. What were the highpoints?
A. Being away from the stress of work and sharing this incredible experience with my son was the highpoint for me. I think that was the highpoint for Sho, too. Even when we were shivering in the rain, cycling up a mountain in the freezing cold, we had fun. The whole thing made me realize that if you’re doing it together, even a fiasco can turn out to be something wonderful.

Q. How has the whole experience changed your relationship?
A. We became very comfortable in each other’s presence. We developed a special bond. It’s a quiet connection that runs very deep. Since Japan, my wife and I have taken Sho (who’s now 11) and our daughter (now 6) to bicycle the circumference of Iceland, and ride through Europe. These long trips have become part of who we are.

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